So a little life update. I’m having my first solo violin recital tomorrow. In translation–I’m going to play like 33 minutes of classical music onstage with just a pianist behind me instead of a symphony orchestra around me. The difference is akin to dueling versus being part of a Roman legion.
I’m balancing between “Everything will be fine!” and being a nervous wreck (If you’re wondering about the lack of posts lately, yes, this is why!).
I shouldn’t be. Following Plague Policy, there’s only going to be maybe a dozen people there. Some of this music I’ve had in my hands for–wow, has it really been a year? So no pressure, right?
On the bright side, I’m playing two of my favorite pieces. The Baal Shem and “Meditation.” If you’ve ever been to a wedding, you probably know the second piece. Most people name it by saying, “Oh, you know, the “Da—da-da-da-da Daa-da,” and if you know it you probably had no trouble hearing the melody in your head just from that horrible little transcription. The Baal Shem is a piece that you can’t hum, but once you’ve heard it, you never forget. I’ve wanted to play it since, what, second semester of my freshman year in college? When my wee little hands didn’t have enough strength or technique in them yet.
I bought a new dress. I know, it’s something I almost never do. Orchestral attire is black. Solid black. Ask anyone in a symphony, and they’ll tell you how much of their closet is just black for concerts.
Except it’s just me this time. I don’t have to match. So I bought a floor-length dress. In green. Because I can.
Technically it’s slightly more than floor length, and to be honest, I’m a little nervous about tripping and falling flat on my face once I get onstage. Then again, I’d worry about that if I were wearing slacks. When I played in a production of Fiddler on the Roof, I didn’t fall off the ladder, didn’t trip dancing with Tevye–I found the one loose microphone cord trying to get up the stairs to the stage and almost went splat in front of the whole audience. Almost.
Everything is new about this concert, really. Even the concert hall is just a few years past its renovation (the acoustics, my love, the acoustics). And I’ll be playing on a new violin.
Okay, technically it’s old. But we’re new to each other. And I am falling a little in love. I could write a whole post about this violin, and I probably should. For now–the sound is subtle but strong when it needs to be. It looks ordinary until it’s under the stage lights, and then it shines like crystallized honey or sweet amber, like someone’s hair that looks brown until the sun hits it and you suddenly see red and gold and living fire. It has scars from getting bashed up years before it ever reached my hands. It’s a breath smaller than is typical and fits my hands just the way it should.
Oh. And the scroll is carved like a lion sticking out its tongue.
I love this violin.
I know I should just relax. Everything will be fine if I just relax. But when you want something so badly, sometimes it’s hard to remember to even breathe.
But not tomorrow. Tomorrow I will breathe. Tomorrow I’ll just stop thinking about everything new, everything that might go wrong. I’ll forget the violin isn’t actually part of me. I’ll stop caring so much if something goes awry. The house lights will go down, and I will play the music. I’ll fall into it, disappear, feel the notes in my fingers, in the ache of my shoulder, the pull of my wrist and nothing else will matter. Just the music. The singing, the screaming. The magic spilling out. I’ll be home.
My writing brain tends to click on at the most inopportune times.
One o’clock in the morning on a regular basis. While moving house. During university finals.
So here I am, craziest time of the year, elbow-deep in urban fantasy.
Can’t say I’m anything but perfectly happy about it. It’s not great for getting work done, but when you’re spending all the free time you don’t have with a paranormal-style/Peter Pan vibe/nightmare creature/urban fantasy/super rude and snarky wizard girl…
…things could be worse.
It’s a story I’ve been trying to write officially since the end of March. And it’s finally starting to fall into place. So I’m not about to gripe that I’m too busy to have inspiration or write.
What else have I been doing?
Played a violin jury barefoot in my bookroom because virus meant everything was submitted by video and the camera wasn’t showing my feet anyway (Hobbit-child’s tacit rebellion against shoes was strong that day),
Had existential breakdown and reconsidered almost all of my life choices after listening to said jury recordings because I hate hearing my mistakes, submitted them and died a little inside,
Discovered the “h” and “0” keys on my keyboard are starting to stick from being violently pounded too often during passionate writing sessions, leaving me highly irritating typos to find later,
Googled for images of combat boots, obsidian pendants, and actual bar slang/cocktails from the 1920s (only writers will understand why),
Sent incoherent text messages and emails to writing buddies/friends also in the rush of end-of-year things that make literally no sense in or out of context but assure us all that we’re still alive and at least partially functioning,
Scrambled to finish the last of my university finals while hunting through my brain for a single shred of willpower to keep studying.
…which is what I should be doing now.
In a few more days, things will be back to normal…or whatever level of weirdness is normal for me and my book dragons. Am fully planning to celebrate my escape of stress with ice cream and a lot of writing time.
Umm…playing “Meditation” on my violin inside a castle chapel/great hall and listening to the fantastic acoustics as my music reached the painted clouds?
Serious, I wasn’t just daydreaming when I was reading. It was real.
The castle is called Chateau Charmant, and it’s smack in the middle of a patch of woods in the Midwest. Exactly the place for a castle, really. Up on a hill with a fantastic view from the catwalk.
And that echoing chapel…
If I’m honest, I find it a little amazing I happened to be there myself. The short answer is simple enough–the mercenary historical fighters I went to the nerd con with were going and invited me along, in hopes of finding a good Renaissance faire location.
But that doesn’t really sound like a simple answer, does it? To someone outside the loop, it probably sounded like absolute gibberish.
To simplify it still?
I followed the bumpy gravel road through the woods, past the gate with the lions, over the bridge and up the hill, and found the castle.
And when I asked very nicely, the owners of the castle let me take out my violin and play.
This is why I don’t think it sounds real, even to me. Even if I do have half a dozen swordsmen ready to vouch for it.
Even if it was just for today, I’ve got to admit, sometimes it really feels like there is fairy magic in the world after all.
So I spent my Saturday with a group of mercenaries happily attacking each other with steel weapons, waving at the Queen, participating in the arrest of anti-heroes, and playing as much fiddle music as I could.
Is it true most people just have friends over to watch a movie on the weekends and order a pizza?
In the likelihood you are confused, the short explanation is that I joined a gang group of historical fighters who wanted a fiddler to set the mood. At a nerd con. I can’t really say it was a comic con when swords and dragons outnumbered comics at least 2-1. Legos probably beat both though.
Anyway. It only seems right to start with the implied job description.
Wanted: one fiddle player, also a bagpiper if possible. Should be able to learn march music. Wear cool clothes. Be comfortable watching grown men and women pummel each other to paste in the glory of medieval sportsmanship for the entertainment of all.
Or something like that.
You know, it’s really not every day you get to see Edna Mode, DC characters, and Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth I in one place. Could I really say no?
So tune the violin strings, fasten the cloak, and off I went to perform at my first convention!
I was a little worried about finding the group amid all the people at the con–but that problem was quickly taken care of. Apparently I should have remembered that steel armor is easily visible halfway across a field. And the Order wears bright red.
Granted, I also thought Dr. Strange was one of our company when I got there…but he was just admiring the weaponry. Stranger things have happened. Good costume, too.
Most of the day I was free to wander around the con…so I did. I don’t know all the fandoms people make there…but I like seeing them. Exploring. Watching people squeal over other people’s costumes. Playing music behind someone and then disappearing. Realizing I need to learn tunes for Spiderman and Assassin’s Creed and probably dozens of other characters I saw during the day. Waving at all the people I knew from Dragonfest. Picking out different themes for each fighter as the knights entered the ring (well, the square, if we’re honest with ourselves. Why do we call it a ring? Anyone?).
I probably don’t have the time to describe everything that happened. The nice thing about places like that is it’s so far out of the ordinary, you begin to think that everything is normal–and anything wonderful could happen.
A favorite moment (if you can imagine this):
My new mercenary fellows have placed Deadpool is in the stocks (because money. Dr. Who paid them to do it). Another Deadpool is consoling him(self?), holding the prisoner’s hand and putting a pinecone on his head. Yes, a pinecone. I haven’t the faintest idea why. It’s purportedly a very tender moment.
Random girl standing by me suddenly turns and asks “Do you know the love theme from Titanic?”
Well, yes, actually, I did.
I started playing, two Deadpools holding hands, and it was one of those moments where we all looked at each other for that brief second before laughing our heads off. Of course the two Deadpools threw themselves into the moment, making the whole thing even more ridiculous.
I had to thank the girl afterward–it was quite brilliant.
And yes, they eventually let Deadpool out of the stocks.
Also played the tune later so Joker could hug Deadpool consolingly while they both cried buckets of tears. The Joker asked very politely, so…I didn’t ask questions as to the nature of the tragedy. It was the end of the day, and after that long smeshed between knights and comic book characters, everything started to seem relatively normal.
I imagine that’s how it would be if you stepped into a book–for a while, you’re baffled, but then you find your friends and charge headlong into adventure. And after a while, it starts to feel like home.
By now, some of you may have realized I get unusual jobs. Be a strolling player at a Renaissance festival? Play electric violin for a private studio concert? Sure, why not? But the job I took in mid-November (smack in the middle of NaNoWriMo) was probably the most unusual for a while.
Wanted: One violinist. Must be able to memorize music. Also should feel comfortable walking/dancing while playing. Wardrobe should include boots and fiddler’s cap. Must not be afraid of heights.
Okay, so maybe that’s not exactly how it played out. But that’s what was eventually asked.
And in case you haven’t guessed, the role to be filled was the fiddler in a private school production of Fiddler on the Roof.
(deliberate pause as the little violinist in me squeals in disbelief.)
You have to understand, there are a lot of things associated with violin. Mozart, classical style, modern pop stuff, oy the number of times I’ve heard about Lindsey Stirling…But sooner or later, you’re going to realize two things recur again and again.
Almost every violinist is eventually asked to play “The Devil Went Down to Georgia.”
Almost every violinist would much rather play Issac Stern’s solos in Fiddler on the Roof. His sound–aaaagghh! Some of us work our entire lives to sound that glorious. And few enough succeed.
I can remember listening to that overture when I was little, relishing every last silver, shining note. After hearing about this job, I finally remember Little Me saying wouldn’t it be amazing to play that part?
I never actually thought I’d get to do it. And yet here it was, a coworker directing the play and asking around for a fiddler.
So I sidled up to him after getting off work…okay, more like materialized behind him, and cleared my quiet bookish throat.
Here’s the thing: he was asking a group of high school students for volunteers. And I didn’t really want to swoop in and take the role from a bright-eyed student if they had their heart set on it as much as I would have.
So I said I knew he was probably going to be swamped with violinists jumping at the chance to do this (because seriously! Life goals, people!), but if he still hadn’t heard from anyone, would he please keep me in mind?
Guess what? Nobody else had asked about the role.
Bizarre? Indeed. The director figured they were daunted by the prospect of dancing with Tevye…but thinking about my Dragonfest experiences walking and playing, hopping over logs, curtsying…I just laughed. That really wasn’t going to be a problem.
This may also have been the one time I can recall my fate of looking younger than I am working in my favor. All the times of being slighted at music shops because I looked young, new parents at work giving me odd looks when they see me working with little violinists–apparently it was all worth it because I blended in with the cast of the play perfectly.
So, surprise! I was suddenly the Fiddler on the Roof.
(feel free to imagine little girl inward squealing for the next three days in my brain. You won’t be too far from the truth.)
I’ll admit I didn’t know what to expect showing up for the first rehearsal.
What I found was the wedding scene taking place on an incredible set the students and teachers had built themselves.
I’ve been around theater (and most other performing arts) enough by now to learn the closer you get to performance, the crazier everything gets. I managed to get a brief “Hi,” from the director before he plunged back into what he was doing. So I sat back and watched. It was a good scene already.
One of the actors ran up to me after it was over. Introduced himself.
“Are you our fiddler?”
I grinned and shook his hand. “Yes sir, I am your fiddler.”
It wasn’t until after he’d run off again I realized I hadn’t even thought of using my name.
After the director had a moment to breathe, we ran one of the scenes with the fiddler and discussed details.
The actors were quick to explain scenes to me, mood, etc. I tried not to laugh and wondered if they realized I could sing along on half the numbers just because of how well I knew the story.
The director was actually super sweet about making sure I was comfortable with everything. Particularly the part about dressing as a male fiddler.
So very kind. But it was all I could do not to laugh in his face.
I’ve been around theater, even if I’ve never really been “an actress.” I know how small productions work. As Kvothe says in The Name of the Wind, “If you were clean-shaven and the dress fit, you played the part…” That’s just how it goes.
So I assured him I’d be fine, dragged some garb I already had out of my closet, stole Dad’s hat, and threw it together.
Voilà! One fiddler on the roof.
Which brought us to the other exciting part of the job.
I’m not actually afraid of heights. But holding my violin on a stepladder on a platform that wobbled–that made me nervous. Very nervous. I wasn’t afraid of falling. I was afraid of falling with the violin.
But the director swept in to my rescue again. Took the ladder off the platform, grabbed two actors to hold it and my violin as I climbed up and down, and let me play up there for a bit until I felt comfortable.
Or at least more comfortable.
And it was fine.
Another silent thanks to Perchik and the rabbi. I think I actually said “May you both be blessed with perfect pitch,” when I climbed down once during performance. They were so good about holding my violin carefully. I’m not sure if the director (also a musician) scared them into it or if they were just perfect. Either way.
We had one last thing to work out before the show. The student actors had so many friends and family members coming we were going to have full house/standing room only. After some consideration…
Two messages on my phone and an email later…the director was trying to make sure I could come to a second showing.
(cue me glancing at piles of work. Eh, who cares. I can swing it.)
And I did.
Night 1: Did not fall off ladder. Did not trip and fall on face going down steps I couldn’t see in the stage lights.
Made faces at actors hiding backstage waiting for the show to start, laughed myself silly at all of us peeking out from the house set’s curtains, discovered Tevye apparently doesn’t know sign language and I may have creeped him out…(sorry, Tevye!)
Did trip over a stray electric cord and nearly splatted on my face then, but that’s another story. And we also discovered it was total blackout behind the house when I would be climbing the ladder. We hadn’t rehearsed it that way, so there was a collective “Oh,” from the three of us back there. Fortunately, everything went well.
There also wasn’t much of a backstage, so the director planned to have me sit in the audience. He’d claimed a seat himself in the front so he could cue actors and lighting, so I’d sit next to him.
Not like I was in time-out or anything. Just so he could smack me if I missed a cue.
Except when I scurried offstage after the opening number…there was a lovely family sitting on the front row. Luckily I’d left my coat on the seat, or the director might not have saved me a place.
As soon as I’d settled in, the man I found myself sitting next to leaned over and whispered in my ear.
“I’m proud to be sitting next to Tradition.”
I laughed. Said “Thank you, sir.”
Yeah, he totally made my day.
Night 2: Did not fall off ladder. Did not trip over steps.
Actually had more fun in the dance scene with Tevye the second time around. It was set so I sneak up behind him before I start playing…I tend to enjoy sneaking too much.
Sat next to director’s family the second night, and they saved me a seat, so no worries there. The only really sad part was night 2 was the last show.
Pity. I’d forgotten how much I loved theater.
It was about as glorious as I’d hoped it would be. Everyone hears nasty things about the theater world sooner or later, “Oh, they all want to be stars,” “They’re not very nice,” etc. Not true with this group. It was one of those rare places you find people who just care about making a good play. Telling a good story. Building sets, perfecting the wedding dance with balancing bottles on actor’s heads (which I am apparently sworn to secrecy as to technique now), making every moment something to remember.
It was the best.
One last fun fact. Even though the director did make the effort to introduce me to the cast (the first day I headed out after rehearsal, he had everyone say goodbye to me and they all applauded…so sweet), for some reason I kept being a little enigmatic. People weren’t entirely sure what my name was…where exactly I’d come from…how they’d gotten a fiddler…just that the director had pulled me out of a hat, apparently, and they were happy and busy enough not to ask too many questions.
I guess I could have corrected that. But this was so much more fun.
Most of rehearsals, if people had to say something to me, I was just “the Fiddler.” And that was perfectly fine with me.
Actually, some kids from work came by to the play and saw me on the roof…the next time they saw me at work they all said “Hello, Fiddler!” making me feel like a real celebrity.
I’ve never really had a nickname stick before, but I think I could get used to this one.
I’ve never actually played an electric violin before this weekend.
Nor did I actually know I was going to be doing so until the Friday before.
It happened something like this.
A week ago, I was asked to play the solo electric violin part (on my regular violin, please note) with two student performers, just to give them a little more confidence for the year-end Christmas concert. They would be able to hear me, since I would be wedged between them onstage, but that was about it. The audience would be listening to them.
Then I realized I had exactly a week and one day to learn the music…
…during university finals week.
Okay. That’s fine. At this point in the year, everything starts to sound like it’s not a bad idea. I can do this.
I would not be perfectly honest if I said I had the piece flawlessly ready for performance by the next Friday for pre-concert rehearsal. But considering I had one week to learn it…I didn’t think it was half bad. Besides, what did I have to worry about? I was pretty much just a human metronome for the two electric soloists.
That Friday, something along the lines of this:
“Hey, do you want to play that part on my electric?”
(slight pause). Well, yes, actually, I would. If you were sure you wouldn’t mind. That would be…really, really fun.
Of course now I was a smidge nervous. There’s no way to hide mistakes on an electric instrument. At least not any that I’ve been made aware of.
So I crammed a little more practice in and hoped for the best.
I didn’t actually try the electric instrument out until warm-ups the day of the concert. I’d tuned one of them, so I was prepared for the weight difference (still somewhat baffled how much heavier electrics are), but…
…okay, I was a little nervous about it.
Every instrument is built a little bit different. The size. The weight. The shape. The height of the bridge, tension of the strings–you get the idea.
But it wasn’t so bad. The piece wasn’t too complicated. Everything felt fine. I was given a very brief crash course on the amp, and away we went.
I did not zone out during the concert and miss the cue to get onstage.
I did not trip over the electric cords in my full-length dress and fall flat on my face (this is usually Concern No. 1 without the extra extension cords coiled under my shoes. It is safe to say I did not wear high heels).
I did not forget to flip both switches to turn the sound on.
I did not forget to flip both said switches off before removing cord so the audience wasn’t blasted with a loud popping noise (I knew this one without being told).
And I did not get horribly nervous and have my fingers/brain lock up and mutually forget all the notes (always a slender possibility with any performer in any performance).
And on the other hand…
We played well.
It actually was pretty fun.
People seemed to like it.
The student performers seemed happy, and the director was pleased pink with her concert as a whole (this is without argument the most important thing).
It wasn’t a flawless performance, either. But we weren’t playing for a particularly judgy crowd. And with TSO pieces and a group that’s just in it to make some good music, you really can’t go wrong.
If there’s one thing that competes with my love of books, it’s my violin. And this week turned out to be more of a violin week than a book week.
After writing this post, I’m not sure how much sense it’s going to make to anyone who doesn’t play. Just take it like reading a fantasy story–music, like magic, is sometimes hard to translate.
Strings were starting to sound old this week, so I had to get new ones right before a performance. As in like five days before? For non-string players, understand this can be stressful.
Performance was already stressful. I wasn’t keen on changing strings.
But I did, and they sounded fine. Stayed in tune pretty well. I changed my E string last of all.
I’ve had a Pirastro E string nestled in my case for a while, looking up at me from its little envelope. Waiting. I don’t usually get Pirastro strings (because starving artists…gorgeous strings can get pricey), but this one had come with a pack of my usual brand. I’d been saving it for a special occasion. Can’t really say what or why, but apparently the day had come.
I opened the little paper envelope. Took the string out of the inner paper envelope (you know it’s special if it gets two all to itself). Tuned it up to the right pitch.
No, not quite. Not the right word. Not like a bell or an ordinary string. It just sang out, like a sweet girl’s voice echoing over high hills, getting softer as it faded, but still beautiful, still there, still…
It still squeaks at times like any other E string I’ve had. But that soaring sound…
Performance today. I was playing Libesfreud, a beautiful piece. But I must have been concentrating harder than I realized (really did want those opening thirds in tune and to nail the timing with the rubato) because of the question after I finished–
“…can she smile?”
Apparently I must have forgotten that.
In case you were wondering, I can smile. And I did. But it actually was quite touching to listen to three string players talk over themselves about
“It was good…”
“….so good, the phrasing”
“But your face…” etc.
So apparently I played well but looked like a dead fish.
So in between working on NaNoWriMo (I’m still alive after 18,000 words in 6 days! Ha!), here is the promised blog post about Grand Bookish Adventure no. 2: Dragonfest Renaissance faire. Even though it’s been a couple weeks since it happened.
As word of explanation, I am a strolling player at the festivals–wander around, wear cool clothes, and play music (this is actually my job description. Simplified, of course. Don’t be too jealous). If you want to come to Dragonfest sometime, feel free to poke around on the website. And if you like this little adventure, I’m having another performance mid-November, so keep your eye on the blog.
Otherwise, here’s the story!
If you missed my ranting about how awesome Dragonfest and Renaissance faires are in general…Life off the Page. It sometimes happens.
Anyway, some of you may remember I was hoping in terror it wouldn’t rain. Because the violin does not get wet.
And yes, I went anyway.
Probably not the most logical of my logicless decisions in the last week and a half (please note, most of this was written before NaNo–but the point stands).
And some little droplets of water got on the violin I take to faires.
(Sound of Strolling Player internally dead. Not dying. Dead.)
(Feel free to imagine here whatever wet squelching sound, dry banshee wailings or aghast poetry you like)
Of course I wiped them off as soon as I saw them and was as careful as I could be. And for those of you holding your breath, when I scrutinized it later, the worst damage appeared to be light smudges on the high-gloss varnish. Similar smudges have appeared before because my hands typically sweat rivers when I play. So. Probably no lasting damage.
Didn’t help other musicians were quietly judging me by politely commenting how surprised they were I had come.
Can’t blame them. I’d be judging me too.
Let’s none of us tell my concertmasters/former or current teachers/professors/friends/employers/anyone remotely related to my music career who knows anything about music anything about this, okay?
Cloaks are wonderful things, do you know that? You can hide an entire violin and bow underneath it when you feel the first raindrop on your nose and run for cover.
I spent most of the day doing that and playing for people under the various tents I’d taken up residence in. No one seemed to mind. In a way, you can make more sales if everyone is forced into your booth to get out of the rain. And you suddenly have free entertainment.
Everyone was super sweet about tipping me too. I know a lot of performers station themselves in one place and put out a jar/hat/open case. Not that I blame them; faire life full time can be expensive. But it’s not my style. I like to wander, browse booths, visit the Queen, walk as I play…no copper beggar’s cup. I am a mummer, not a beggar. No offense.
But people tipped me anyway just because they liked me playing. There’s one man who sells swords (ah, beautiful swords.) that tips me every year. A pirate asked if I knew the tune Katyusha, and after hearing Maria Lazareva’s version…well, that was a very good suggestion, indeed. He tipped with coins. I appreciated the authenticity but found them very difficult to put into my belt pouches one handed.
He wasn’t the only one to request music. Two boys early in the day wanted to try my violin, and yes, I did let them.
One reason for this– a story my mother never tires of telling. When I was a wee little girl myself going to the faires, I met a lady who played violin with a little band. Even that young, my genetic must play violin had already kicked into gear. Short attention span or not, I think I would have stayed planted in front of her all day long. Despite all the other magic of the faire.
She asked if I wanted to hold it.
Her violin. If I wanted to hold her violin.
Yes. Yes, I did.
She showed me how to hold it and play a note. And I can’t say I’ve ever completely forgotten her, or the violin that was easily three or four sizes too big for me.
So when two young lads came up and asked if they could play, I said yes.
I began to reconsider after they’d done it two or three times each during the day. Despite the happy faire memories, there is a darker, jealous side to musicians.
I have never heard it said better than Kvothe in The Name of the Wind.
Asking a musician to play his instrument is roughly the equivalent of asking a man if you can kiss his wife.
As best I can remember it. Don’t have a copy yet and can’t find the quote anywhere. Bother.
While he uses stronger terms than I would…he isn’t wrong. If I hand you my instrument, you can either conclude it isn’t my Precious, that I trust you very much, that I am watching your every move, or I am partially-brain dead or have no other options before the world goes up in smoke.
I was watching their every move.
I imagine watching them play was rather like skydiving. No, I’ve never done it. But it has that sensation of standing on the edge of a cliff with nothing under you.
From a few words and the way they clutched and crunched the bow, I soon learned they were both 2Cellos fans. Unusual, but approvable. Also explained their horrible form.
Don’t think I’m being cruel. Everyone has horrible form when they first pick it up. If they don’t…I suspect wizardry or the mythic Inherent Talent which I have yet to come across in full glory.
Eventually, I agreed to learn Thunderstruck for them by next year. Since they didn’t know how to play it themselves. And why not? I like 2Cellos. Maybe more than I should.
Between performing, I stopped by Lady Jillian’s booth and bought my very own LillaRose hair clasp, which I’d been meaning to do since the first Dragonfest. It has a dragonfly with Celtic knotwork designs. I am very satisfied. Next time I’ll buy one of the gaudy ones with trailing beads to wear to symphony performances.
There were also gentlemen who made me a bit too amused at the prospect of using the clasps to pin back their beards.
Yup, that’s still funny. I think they were pleased to have entertained me.
Also stumbled across a booth selling rings while I was there…so I bought one of stone and one of wood. I was thinking of Kvothe again, of course, with his rings of bone and fire and blood. They’re both a bit big for me, but most rings are. I have small hands. I don’t know why I picked the black stone ring. They had orange and jade-green and a brownish color…somehow I just felt like the black one.
Speaking of Kvothe, I did run into J. Christopher Wilson again, writer of Wards of Iasos. We have had a few tentative book discussions since Dragonfest Year 1.
I read Iasos. He reads George R.R. Martin. I therefore had no compunction in recommending The Name of the Wind. Well, very little anyway. If Game of Thrones is half of what I’ve heard as far as content…he’ll be fine.
My recommendation was somewhat solidified by a woman who appeared behind me while we were talking. As soon as she heard Rothfuss, she firmly seconded my opinion.
Then apologized for interrupting. A true bookworm, I presume.
Actually, as soon as she said Mr. Wilson should read the Rothfuss, her head swiveled to me and she said:
“Are you Kvothe?”
I burst out laughing. She shook her head and mumbled no, guess not.
I couldn’t help thinking–should I be offended? Flattered? I know where she got the idea, wandering minstrel just happening to recommend that book to someone.
Should I have been offended at the comparison to a blade-tongued musician who lies freely and spends far too much time noticing the appearance of young women?
And is also very handsome with bright red hair and one of the best musicians ever penned?
Am I okay with that?
Apparently I am okay with that.
Maybe. Sort of. Not like I’d go around telling people that. More like “Oh. I guess I’m Kvothe to you now. Okay.” I guess there are worse names. Maybe. Ish.
I should have said “One family,” the way all Ruh do, but I was too surprised to think of it in time. Anyway.
Whoever you were Bookish Lady of Dragonfest–you made my day. A deep curtsy to you and your library.
Of course, that’s saying a lot. Most of the day was fantastic (minus the rain).
There was a booth full of wooden wands where the carver said to “Feel free to swish and flick.” I was tempted, but holding my violin at the moment. They were about the prettiest wands I’d seen around.
The jousts were, as usual, very good. The final joust of the day a little girl in full armor came to watch. Of course one of the knights chose her as his Lady. I love that they choose little girls so often–you know it makes their entire year. Especially this little girl getting her yellow rose.
We actually had an unhorsing. The knight stayed still so long I actually started to hold my breath, worrying he’d gotten hurt. Then he bounced up light as you please and threw his arms in the air for applause.
He got it. You have to know that hurt. He also took two more passes in the lists at least.
We have amazing knights.
New steel fighting group The Order of the Red Boar this year. They are…intense. Very intense. To the point I hope they don’t actually decapitate each other. Historical martial arts groups are graceful, one hand disengaged, foil flicking like the tail of a cat. The Red Boar, with their broadswords and fury, well, they’re more like tipsy Vikings who grabbed the sword instead of the hammer. Expect much shouting, falling, and slamming.
They also invited me as resident musician…it is a highly tempting offer. And slightly flattering.
And for the last event of the day…you are now reading the narration of a minstrel who has officially played in the Rat Puck.
Somehow I missed mentioning this game before in my description of the faires. Not sure how.
The Rat Puck is a game I’ve never actually heard of outside of the Hartville faire. One of my distinctive early faire memories involves a woman and baby (both in garb) standing on one side of the road, gentlemen rat pucking on the other.
And when they pucked it in her direction, she belted out if they would be so kind to keep their rat on their side of the road.
Never blamed her for that, but after playing it and almost being whacked and whacking others with flying rats…woo, she was right.
The rules are simple. Everyone gets a hollow bamboo pole with an end chiseled to look like the mouth of a recorder (delicate rules regarding pole width I don’t fully gather). You are also bequeathed with a color coded felt “plague rat.” And it is your duty to wedge stick under rat and fling it halfway across the faire shouting “Cheese!” and hoping to be the first to get it to its wooden circle.
It’s rather like a bizarre game of golf.
Not sure why we shout “Cheese.” Apparently affects the accuracy of rat puck. Kind of cheese does not matter. Adding other food words to cheese does.
Not going to question that.
How did I do? Badly.
But it was all in fun, and I didn’t really care. I’d wanted to play the game for years, but thought it was gentlemen only (and I wasn’t there/didn’t have the nerve to ask/was probably smaller than the poles at that time). Whenever one of the seasoned players made a bad puck, they howled “Shame, shame, you are a shame to the clan” at each other. It was…highly amusing.
Also pucked rats over the main road that bisects the faire. At that point we were pucking rats toward people, even thought the faire was almost over.
Nobody got hit (that time), but I did hear about it afterwards.
One of Queen E.’s ladies had offered to hold my violin while I played, and when I hurried back to the court area, the Queen herself was holding it very carefully, like you would delicately rest a bare sword across the palms of your hands.
So undying respect to the Queen and her court. They understand a musician’s fierce-toothed possessiveness and how to handle an instrument properly.
Writing and not writing and things filling the not-writing time…
So this is going to have to be a short post, only to say it’s going to be the lone post until…well, probably after next Wednesday-ish, if I know myself.
Why, you wonder, have I been absent from my self-imposed bloggish duties?
Well, I was supposed to have a fall break. I think I blinked and missed it. The weekend before that was a violin thing, this last week has been gobbled up by work and university mayhem (midterms, anyone?) and now I’m getting ready for Dragonfest this weekend (inward little girl squeal). Oh, and Monday is a symphony performance out of town.
So in other words, I’m running about like the White Rabbit, winding my watch and “tut-tutting” to myself, lamenting the fact that I don’t have time for croquet. But I am not yet, let it be known, late.
It’s okay, though. I know I’ll muddle through it all. I just might crash and sleep for a ridiculously long time afterward.
How do I know it’s going to be fine?
Well, Dragonfest, for one thing. If the prospect of a Renaissance festival on the horizon can’t make me feel better about insane schedules, I’m not sure there’s much that can. And for another…Wednesday starts the Epic Library Book Sale (yes, they really are called that. I didn’t name them)!
Anyway, I just wanted to write a heads-up so it doesn’t seem like I’ve just quit blogging. More book reviews are in the works, and I fully intend to post on how the faire plays out and probably on my happy day book haul. Just be patient if it’s a few days late. I tend not to publish things until I know they’re ready.
But to be perfectly fair, this is a writing update, so…
Writing Status: Sort of Unblocked?
I mean, the ideas are coming. Just sort of trickling right now, about in pace with the amount of time I’m sneaking to write. So I’m wriggling deep into piles of maps on New York and grappling with timelines and locks and electric lighting and alarm systems and the fact that cities never sleep and overthinking my magic system for the hundreth time whenever I have a breath. Which feels pretty good, except for the overthinking bit.
Reading Update: Still on The Wise Man’s Fear
Still in the midst of the slaphappy relationship, too. Sometimes I don’t want to imagine never having met Rothfuss’s characters. They make me laugh, they make me want to cry…Other times, I’ve had about enough. I’m still reading. Not sure I really want to admit that, but that’s the truth of the matter. We’ll see where it goes. And when life slows down for me a little, I’ve got a Name of the Wind review partially written and staring at me while I’m muddling through. Maybe after another week we can start cracking into that thing…
As usual, if you have book recommendations or books you haven’t read and think I should read first to tell you if they’re worth reading in my lowly esteemed opinion, feel free to let me know. I’m always up for a new adventure. Regardless of whether the White Rabbit thinks I have the time.
So this month, I get to do one of my favorite things in the world.
No, I’m not spending three days locked in a closet with my laptop and a pile of snacks to get some writing done. Funny.
I’m actually going outside, in the crisp fall air, forgetting about deadlines, stress, and responsibilities, and instead spending the day playing my violin for anyone who wants to listen and wandering among swordsmiths, cloak-makers, nobility, knights, patrons, and people who love a good adventure story just as I do.
And I guess I should explain this, because while it’s second (or maybe first?) nature to me, I realize some people have never been and/or don’t realize how awesome they are. I remember talking to someone from the Kansas City area about a year and a half ago who had never been to the faire there–and it’s a pretty big one. Not my favorite, but big. If you live there and haven’t at least heard of it…well, no one should judge me for being a Hobbit and never coming out of my hole in the ground again.
If you’ve never been, there are two steps to this.
Listen to me when I tell you they are awesome. As Hazel from The Fog Diver would say, “three kinds of awesome.”
Go to a faire. Seriously. I can’t explain in words everything there is to see and do and fall in love with. Some things you just have to stumble into yourself. Make sure that you pick one with real jousting. Not this choreographed nonsense where the victor is predetermined. What nonsense.
Optional steps involve dressing up in costume, talking like a pirate, and participating in the games of strength or valor present in almost all faires. Because that’s half the fun of going.
And I also realize there might be more to my love for the faires than there seems to be at first glance. It’s a bit of a long story, so if you’re going to listen to the whole thing, make sure your dragon is comfortably settled with his tea and your kittens aren’t quibbling over the accuracy of nursery rhymes.
From the beginning, then.
Little children, when they are small, believe in Fairyland. Some of them. They read about it in books, they see beautiful pictures in glowing colors, softly beckoning them to a world that must be possible, a world they know is glorious and magical. Full of dragons and creamcakes and steamed plum puddings and happy endings and impossible feats of strength and valor and deep, dark forests that never end.
When I was a little girl, I didn’t have to just believe in Fairyland because I’d read about it. I knew it existed. I’d been there.
Several times, in fact.
Every spring, about at the beginning of April, my family made a trip to a Renaissance festival (Yes, I have cool parents. Very much so).
We went about every year when I was little. I met Queen Elizabeth, was made a lady of her court, cheered jousts (to this day, it’s one of the few sports I’m actually fanatical about), still have a blue stone a fairy gave me, listened to stories from wizards, I think first tasted funnel cake, watched magicians, and met a wonderful woman who let Little Me hold her violin and play a note or two. Highlight of my young life, as yearning for violin seems to have been in my brain and blood since birth.
Sometime as the years spun by, we stopped going to the faires. I don’t really know why–moves, changing interests, forgetfulness, something. But I never really forgot about them. I mean, really, how could I? I’d watched men swallow fire and knock each other off huge horses galloping at each other at full speed (in retrospect, this could be why I’m not easily impressed by things these days…conversation for another time). And I got bored. Or something.
So the shoe got on the other foot, and I dragged my family to the faires. Hartville in the rain, Kansas City for a burning hot weekend, to the very first Dragonfest. Most of the time, they had to coax me away.
After all, what child would willingly leave Fairyland? When there are dragons and juggling and adventures to be had?
Last October was my first chance to actually be a part of Dragonfest as something more than a patron. I’ve been spending most of my time since counting down the days until I could go back again.
Which leads us to this month. Or the next two weeks, specifically. October 19, 2019.
I’m going to be the Strolling Player of Dragonfest.
And Knights of Valor are going to be there in all their glory (best joust I’ve seen in some time!) J. Christopher Wilson with his Wards of Iasos book (review another time, don’t worry), Lady Jillian who is absolutely amazing when it comes to hair (seriously, she had mine in a French twist within minutes using only two pins that must be magic. There’s no other way I would have been able to keep all my hair up like that), and so many others with cloaks, little books, cold cider and all the glorious faire trinkets for sale I have terrible weaknesses for. Last year there were blacksmiths who kept time for me as I was fiddling, whether they realized it or not. And Queen E. and her court, of course. I’m actually quite fond of everyone in the court. Yes, including the Goblin King.
But the stories from last year, from the jousts to the gypsies singing Queen’s “We Will Rock You” (no joke) to the Goblin King getting a small gourd sliced off his head by Knights of Valor–I can’t begin to fit them all in this post. I could make a full post of each of them and still wonder if I’d left something out.
So for now, I’ll just have to satisfy myself with crossing off the days until Dragonfest and hoping, hoping, hoping, that it doesn’t rain. Because even though faires are rain or shine, the violin, I am afraid, is not. So I’m hoping and praying for a day as perfect as last year.
Because I really do live for the faires.
But not yet weary are our feet, Still round the corner we may meet A sudden tree or standing stone That none have seen but we alone…
Home is behind, the world ahead, And there are many paths to tread Through shadows to the edge of night, Until the stars are all alight.
Tolkien, J.R.R. “Upon the Hearth, the Fire is Red,” The Fellowship of the Ring. Allen & Unwin, 1954.